Comparison of travel enduros
The global network of gravel roads and highways has so far only known one ruler, the BMW R 1100 GS. But now comes Honda’s Varadero.
A normal motorcycle life can pretty much oscillate between fetching bread and traveling the world. Big, really big travel enduros move best in this area of tension: even magnificent vehicles, well equipped for all eventualities. On top of that, it has an imperial aura that is guaranteed to include the rider: if you drive an Africa Twin, you never have to go far to the Congo. Those who can park their tigers correctly are also good for the tropics, and the R 1100 GS marks the high-flyer as such anyway.
There are only gaps in what the Americans were up to in the once fashionable Cuban seaside resort of Varadero, but it is likely to have been caught in the tension between Cuba Libre and fornication. Seen in this way, Honda’s new, eponymous large enduro opens up exciting horizons of association, and indeed it is optically dedicated to the subject of travel enduro in a rather dandy-like manner. Nothing with wire-spoke wheels or rubber bellows suitable for the slopes. No more the bitter charm of undisguised engines, now with subtle two-tone chic.
But it is wrong who records all this under plasticization. First of all, very few enduro riders need any rally clutter. Second, the gaudy Varadero engine shatters any suspicion in this regard. Because: On the moderately, but at least visibly profiled Michelin T 66 rear tires, 95 PS are applied, given off by a slightly revised V2 known from the VTR 1000 sports car.
95 hp, that scares even the high-flyer from BMW. In northern Spain’s coastal mountains, the R 1100 GS, best in its class and queen of the number, competes in the first MOTORCYCLE comparison. As a reminder: air / oil-cooled 1100 boxer with injection, trailing arm-guided fork at the front, cardan in Paralever swingarm at the rear. Everything packed with the entire know-how of the inventor of truly large-volume enduro bikes and a nominal 80 hp.
Friends of the brand, of course, have long appreciated the typical Boxer series distribution. This test copy also puts a lively 90 hp on the test bench. The performance is almost on the same level, only when pulling the very spontaneous Honda-V drives ahead even in the lower speed range.
Somewhat surprising that the water-cooled 90-degree V-Twin also offers a bit more smoothness than the boxer, which it briefly shakes when accelerating below 2500 rpm and which not only produces constant jerks at constant speeds, but also gentle vibrations in the footrests and seat initiates. Marginalia, of course, but in this case it may be decisive for the purchase: here smooth perfection, there charming mechanical engineering.
The gears are also subordinate to this grid of differentiation – sorry, it must come now. Even the comparatively good box of this test BMW doesn’t hide that. And the Honda, which is driven by an almost unprotected chain, also shows less load change reactions than the GS, which has been tried and tested by cardan. But enough of the more academic considerations. Into the full life, and that measures a maximum of three fifty widths in northern Spain, meanders through olive tree terraces and never stops.
Small country roads. Both engines turn them into playgrounds. Always spontaneously on the gas, always ready to shake 100 Nm of torque out of your sleeve. Both leave it entirely up to the pilot whether he wants to roll around quickly, but at moderate revs, or to thrash hard to the red area and much more quickly. Sovereignty in sophisticated form, celebrated here with a clearly noticeable kick at 4500 rpm, there with a rubber band effect: Whenever the Varadero gets more gas with its 42 Keihins, it accelerates. Just keep on going. And on the autobahn it does that even at 180 in the fifth.
Which – at least in the abstract – could please even politically correct enduro riders if the word Keihin hadn’t been used. In fact, it conceals disdainful constant pressure carburetors, and that means: This Honda novelty also cheats itself among the people without a regulated catalytic converter, only with the fig leaf secondary air system. The successes of BMW politics only allow the conclusion that the Kat is desired and assertive in this segment.
ABS – optionally available for around 2,000 marks and can be switched off for off-road driving – remains BMW-exclusive. However, the Varadero counters with the Honda composite brake CBS. The same always activates the rear and front brakes, even when stepping on the pedal. But don’t panic, the braking forces are so cleverly distributed that there is no extraordinary risk of blocking even on loose gravel. On asphalt, the three-disc system – already known from the classy touring athlete VFR – is more than able to handle the 95 hp. In contrast, even the Brembo pliers on the BMW double disc fade, especially since they are not so easy to dose and have a spongy pressure point as on the Honda.
At an even higher level, the landing gears carry out their dispute. BMW relies on fast-moving, stable and sporty with an astonishingly high level of comfort. Honda counters with a highly comfortable, nimble and also stable with an astonishing sportsmanship. Two worlds? No, but crucial nuances, because the specific feedback from the BMW Telelever appeals to the aggressive curve predator, who likes to use the extra lean angle and is happy to see how exactly this giant ship circles curves of all kinds. The tourist, on the other hand, lets himself be pampered by the Varadero comfort, which is unparalleled even among big tourers and – it must be admitted – at the end of a strenuous test day also made a lasting impression on MOTORCYCLE professionals. Sit on it and feel good.
The same applies increasingly to passengers, who – regardless of whether they are large or rather small – find a very acceptable place. He can support himself casually on his legs, hold on to solid handles and thus defy even the boldest Sturm und Drang. The BMW pillion has long since gripped the driver’s stomach because he cannot find a better grip and his notches are a little too far forward to be able to support himself properly. Nevertheless – and so there is no doubt: Even on the somewhat tighter BMW seats, travel is first class.
And when the driver and passenger are really welded together, things are even a tad faster than on the Honda. Their fork, which responds very sensitively and divinely springs under the soloist, should dampen a little tighter for a brisk ride with a heavy load. Then a more precise feeling for steering would be retained. One more nuance, but please: Somehow two top products have to be rated.
As expected, the comparison is not decided off road, because even gifted experts with 246 or 26x kilograms creeps in the quiet fear. If you approach it respectfully, you can achieve a surprising amount with both motorcycles. Always fluctuates between a strolling pace and sitting or normal pace and getting up. The fat tanks are not suitable for this. The bottom line is that the BMW, which is heavier due to its additional equipment, comes off a little better: It has a lower center of gravity, a smaller turning circle, the lower seat height and the wider handlebars.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to determine how the Varadero behaves on or off road with the special luggage system. It was not yet available for the first test machine distributed in Germany. So more about it in a later issue. For the long-distance soloist, the BMW already has advantages on the face of it, because there is a flat surface under its pillion seat for lashing luggage. The Varadero Bank, on the other hand, is consistent.
UIncidentally, the aforementioned loading area contains the BMW on-board tools, nicely tidy and extensive. Including a set for the emergency repair of tubeless tires. Then there’s a socket. Or heated grips. Or hazard warning lights. And a main stand – and actually almost every comparison with a BMW ends like this or something like that, damn it. Especially this one, because nowhere else such details count more than with travel enduros: Doesn’t the presence of a socket really free you up? For the wild things beyond Cuba Libre.
2nd place – BMW R 1100 GS
Just beaten because of light, wind protection and the like. Or because of the price and guarantee. The concept of the GS remains as up-to-date as ever, with better terrain characteristics, agile handling and sensible long-distance travel accessories, it relies more on the adventurous among travel enduro riders. This BMW copes with everyday life on the side. Not only among other studded steering wheels, but also within the BMW range, the GS is one of the absolute top all-rounders.
1st place – Honda Varadero
For those who tend to drive on gravel roads by chance and do not want to compete with superbikes on country roads, the Varadero offers a little more. More performance, more perfection, more disguise. Above all more comfort, because this large enduro fills the term litter-like with new content. And still remains a lightning-fast, active motorbike. It’s a shame that Honda is cheating on the subject of Kat, especially since the Varadero would have been more successful for a few hundred.
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